South Bank News - December 2002

The first ever Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards (EMMAs) were held in May 1998. Now an internationally renowned event involving personalities such as Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali, they were set up as an independent initiative to recognise the best of ethnically diverse talent by SBU Business School alums, Bobby Ayyub Syed.

“If EMMA didn’t exist then someone would have had to create something else to promote the recognition of talented individuals within the ethnic minority communities in the UK”, says Lord Herman Ouseley, former CRE chairman. “Thankfully, since 1997 Bobby Syed has had the courage, vision, tenacity and stamina to create and sustain the development of EMMA.”

Five years on, Bobby’s tenacity and stamina are stronger than ever. And five years on, EMMA is no longer just a major awards ceremony; it is also an arts festival celebrating London’s multiculturalism, a charity trust to support young people, an Internet site, a magazine and, in the pipeline, a multicultural TV channel.

How did it all start? Where did Bobby Ayyub Syed find his inspiration to create EMMA and develop it into such an internationally renowned event? After growing up in Dulwich, South London, Bobby enrolled at South Bank University in 1985 for a BSc in Social Sciences. “I’d never been in such a multicultural environment and I found it very inspiring to see all these people better their lives”, he comments. “It was an opportunity for me to interact with people from different backgrounds, to learn about myself and my environment. I’d been wrapped up in my urban existence and SBU helped to politicise me for the first time in my life; I became very involved in the Students Union and also set up a society.”

Bobby went onto Bradford for a BA (Hons.) in Peace & Conflict Studies and then did a Master’s in Politics at School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He subsequently set up a diplomatic training school at SOAS and organised a big charity show which raised £10,000 for Imran Khan’s cancer appeal.

In 1992, he joined the Rowland Company (Saatchi & Saatchi PR) to work on corporate and governmental accounts. Two years later he set up Hearsay Communications, a full service PR/Marketing agency specialising in the UK ethnic market and emerging market sector. He believed there was a definite need in the market place for specialists able to develop campaigns which crossed cultural lines.

“I set up the EMMA ceremony as a celebration of professional talents within the media industry,” says Bobby. “I wanted to bring all the talent together in one room and prove to professional clients that I could do this. I also wanted to use it as a showcase to attract clients to the agency. Media is the most powerful influencer and I felt there was a need to educate the media industry about us. It didn’t work straight away but I believed in myself, and just found it bizarre that the world couldn’t see what I could! The influencing factor about EMMA’s story was the Stephen Lawrence case. It provided the right context, one in which everyone felt the need to present a positive and sympathetic image, to be seen to be feeling. EMMA was there at the right time”.

In its second and third year, EMMA was covered on Carlton TV. Celebrities such as Spice Girl Mel B helped ensure its success, bringing in £2 million worth of publicity. When Nelson Mandela came to receive his EMMA Lifetime Achievement Award at a special presentation ceremony, for Bobby “it represented definite acknowledgment from the great and the good.”

In 2001, the BBC took over the broadcasting of the awards show. “It became a bigger and better show”, comments Bobby. “The BBC was very supportive and really improved the quality of the show. BT and NatWest became our sponsors and people started taking notice”.

Lord Ouseley underlines the awards’ ground-breaking impact: “EMMA addresses the fact that we must give recognition and encouragement to the talented ethnic minorities within the media industry here in the UK and globally where it impacts here. I feel that EMMA’s competitive edge has embarrassed the mainstream media into recognising and acknowledging their failure to blend our entire multicultural communities into their own prestigious galas and awards events.”

Bobby agrees: “The ever powerful British Media industry has not always recognised the positive images of our truly unique ethnic multicultural community. Yet the cultural richness that presently exists in our country has further enhanced its global image as the centre for global trade, cultural exchange, multiculturalism via art, music and fashion. We hope that the awards will inspire the younger generation to become more proactive in this dynamic and exciting industry, whilst recognizing the talent that already exists.

Bobby describes EMMA as an urban brand, whose main target is the young market. “Of course we respect the older generation, but our appeal is principally to the young people. It will help inner city children to develop artistic skills and find avenues for them to participate professionally in the media. By raising scholarship and bursaries, the trust will play an educational role to help young people into the media world to benefit, for instance, from placements and media training.”

The EMMA Festival, due to kick off in May 2003, will celebrate London’s multiculturalism through a range of events from all ethnic groups. Its aims are to encourage international tourism, celebrate cultural diversity, and ultimately discover new artistic talent.

“I want the EMMA brand to be evolutionary and revolutionary”, claims Bobby. “It has got to be commercially successful, but I believe in holding onto a core value. EMMA is an ethnical brand that needs to retain its ethnical roots. Its aims and ambitions are to make difference on a cultural, commercial and social level, but it has no political, religious or racial baggage. We are very careful about the sponsors we work with and it’s important to us that they have the same approach”.

“EMMA is a philosophy, a culture, a way of life. We need to define ourselves according to professional standards and values. Those standards are very high and there is a huge pressure to maintain them. My aim was always to develop a prestigious event which seriously questioned the way we had been portrayed as a community in the past, by identifying the individuals and organisations who are committed and those who hide behind tokenism.

“The EMMAs were formed to break any tribal/national barriers, which would allow a better understanding of each of our ethnic groups and the exciting work they all undertake in this growing media industry. But my experience in organising such a major racial harmony award ceremony made me realise how far we have to go before we can develop a truly multicultural society, which can only be reached through eradicating institutional racism. It led me to believe that every person is either a part of the solution or part of the problem, in developing and maintaining racial harmony in our unique community based in London and beyond.

“It would be good one day to see this award ceremony as a major mainstream event with the funding and trappings of success. But EMMA has already made the media industry sit up and take notice. It will continue building upon its previous growth and success, working as an independent body to celebrate multiculturalism within the media, with community and corporate support. We believe EMMA’s multicultural vision means endless possibilities.”

Bearing in mind Bobby’s incredible drive and energy, there is no doubt that EMMA will indeed continue to develop and strengthen its role in Britain and beyond.

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